In many law schools, writing courses are geared toward teaching students how to write appellate briefs, usually to a federal circuit court of appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court. Students then apply the skills they learn in the classroom to regional and national competitions where they receive a record, draft a 30-page brief, and then present their oral arguments to a panel of attorney-judges. While invaluable, this experience does not represent the typical experience of legal practice, especially for new associates. In other words, a partner is unlikely to walk into the young associate’s office, set down a neat, bound record, and instruct the eager advocate to draft the winning brief to the Supreme Court on an issue of first impression.
On the contrary, for many new associates, getting appellate experience can be difficult. It is much easier for a partner to have a new associate draft a discovery motion, defend a deposition, take off down a research trail, or (gasp!) review boxes upon boxes of documents, than to draft an appeal. Sometimes, it is impractical to involve in an appeal a new associate who was not involved in the proceedings below and who is unfamiliar with the record. Additionally, the partner who litigated the case in the trial court may wish to personally draft the appellate brief. Unlike trial practice, appeals have fewer moving parts and, therefore, fewer opportunities for new associates to be a part of the process.
Despite these challenges, there are many ways that you can gain appellate experience right now.